All couples considering children should watch Splice. Or just ask ambitious biochemists Clive and Elsa who, in the course of an hour and 44 minutes, cycle through not just most of the trials and tribulations associated with parenthood, but all of them, as if Splice is reading from a Jerry Springer version of the child-raising manual.
Actually, after Clive and Elsa have done their Fly/Frankenstein thing early on — if you caught the Fringe episode “Night of Desirable Objects,” you know human and scorpion DNA’s really pretty compatible — and we’ve seen the cool effects we were promised, Splice actually becomes more of a comedy. Not just in the way that it’s kind of a Godsend/Species version of Parenthood, but in that all these prototypical “developments” and “rites of passage” their scorpion-girl daughter’s going through, are played for laughs each time. And Adrien Brody (our “splicemaster” Clive here) definitely knows it. And Sarah Polley (remember her from Go?) seems to as well, though the character’s she’s been written leaves her carrying most of the Mommy Dearest-type developments. Though the daughter in this version, she’s got a stinger, and can Man-Bat from the rafters.
So, yes, you see where the story’s going already. You know how when Mulder and Scully get to faraway location X for the week, and there’s all this strange and bloody stuff going on, and they have to recreate how this monster came to be? What they’re recreating, that’s Splice: a Crichton-esque cautionary tale, teaching us that, in the name of progress, no, maybe we shouldn’t throw ethics to the wind.
It starts with Clive and Elsa and some very Outer Limits-ish slugs in the lab (Sand Kings, anybody?), and shamelessly jumps ahead to what, in any good detective story, would be the badge-on-the-captain’s-desk moment. How do we know this story’s really started, now? That the detective’s going rogue. It’s the same with mad-scientist stories: You don’t create monsters with the approval of your bosses. No, you have to do it in the backrooms, after hours, acting directly against not just orders, but divine order. And then of course it gets personal fast, and this project’s a tar baby, a snowball, and you’re basically taking a Bernie corpse to the big meeting, trying to pretend everything’s right with the world. When, really, you’re ending it. Not with a bang, but a splash Gallagher would be proud of.
Another way to look at it, of course, it’s that age-old question: Should we or shouldn’t we cross human and scorpion DNA? What’s the worst that could happen, right?
That’s about the extent of the ethical dilemma here.
But this isn’t to say Splice isn’t completely fun. No, it’s finally not Species I, II, or III, and it’s not really horror or science fiction or comedy, but, much like our scorpion girl here, it’s got genetic traits of all of them, and is a pretty good ride. One which, no, finally doesn’t challenge us that much, but it does get so many of the little things right. Like the way it wants to pretend that Jurassic Park never existed — that we didn’t learn our lessons from it. Cool, fine, great. Let’s also pretend that The Ring never taught us that raising a girl in the barn guarantees some trouble later on.
At the same time, though, Splice has Clive and Elsa puttering around in … wait for it, wait for it … a Gremlin. It names its mutant worms Ginger and Fred (as in dance partners Rogers and Astaire, not Gilligan’s Island and Scooby-Doo). It feeds its scorpion girl a generic 2010-version of Reece’s Pieces, and — more cool effects — it also gives her three-fingered Simpsons hands, some wide-set Na’vi eyes, a distinct Creeper silhouette, and those excellent backwards knees we all love. Which, yeah, they’re from Narnia, they’re from Percy Jackson, but before all that, they’re from The Arrival, which she most definitely is. The way to read this is director and writer Vincenzo Natali (of Cube) having nothing but fun. And no, it’s not at our expense at all. These in-jokes, this filmhound vocabulary and syntax, they only work when we’re right there with him. And, for most of Splice, and especially the Sarah Connor end, when we groan and laugh and clap — we’re right there, loving it.